L. Neil Smith's

Number 41, July 14, 1998

Do Freedom!

As presented at the Second Annual Liberty Round Table Conclave
Estes Park, Colorado, July 4th, 1998

By Don L. Tiggre

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         First and foremost, I want to thank each and every one of you for coming and joining us. It really means a great deal to me to see you people -- not just because it's a show of support -- but just because you guys are my kind of people. I really enjoy this. I really like to interact with people who think for themselves and have interesting ideas in their minds -- and share them, and will examine them, and turn them over, and discuss them with me.
         So, I hope we'll see you again at future Conclaves and from the outset, thank you very much for coming.
         I also wanted to forewarn you that -- in spite of all my questions around the campfire -- I am going to talk about winning. Y'all can go ahead and groan ... I feel, as many people do, that the LP has peed in that waterhole. It's because of those fund-raisers they send out that claim that this time we're gonna win. We're gonna do this thing, and that's gonna cure it all, and we're gonna get in the national debates, and we're gonna win! Or, whatever. They -- the national LP -- talk like that so much they've created another challenge for us to overcome. We get this glib, "we're gonna win now, we've got the silver bullet" shtick so often that people with any experience in the libertarian movement just don't want to hear it. They've been disappointed so many times, they don't want to hear it.
         But ... I think there's a flip side to this.
         Somebody mentioned around the campfire that we do have the advantage of being right. We have the advantage of advocating a system that works for human beings, living on this planet. Eventually, in the evolutionary cauldron of social learning, systems that work will bubble to the top -- even without any help from us.
         And -- whether or not we ourselves see what we would consider full victory in our own times -- what we do on our way towards victory is worth doing. It is very, very much worth doing. I don't think I need to explain that to this audience because most of you wouldn't be here if you didn't already believe it.
         So, I do want to talk about winning.
         And I want to talk about being free -- about achieving freedom in our lifetimes.
         Before I get into that, however, I want to ask you all a question. You don't have to blurt out the answer, just think about it in your mind. This may offend some people -- and that's good -- I want to challenge you.
         Who do you think has done more for freedom in this country, in this century: Ayn Rand, or Larry Flynt?
         Now, over the long run, I would say -- hands down -- Ayn Rand. I do believe that she is correct about the importance of ideas. But how many day-to-day lives, people's choices, legal constraints, and so on, has Ayn Rand really impacted and made a positive, measurable difference on? In many ways, she's made us all more miserable because now we are more aware of all the prison bars people are trying to erect around us and keep us caged in ... Whereas, what Larry Flynt has done, whether or not -- no, not whether or not'; to all appearances, the guy is a flaming asshole.
         But it doesn't matter!
         What he has done in his fight has enabled more people to make choices that the majority does not like. He has created a space in which people can be more free -- with less fear. Nationally! And it's for all kinds of people, people who are complete strangers to him, even people who don't read his magazine. The environment of freedom they have now is very different from what would exist had Larry Flynt not fought his fight to sell his magazine and make some money.
         The reason why I ask this question is because it focuses the mind along the lines of activism and what really matters.
         How do we create freedom?
         A more down home example might help show that it doesn't have to be Larry Flynt and all his millions on the national scene. There's a man who liveS in my town who noticed that across the border in Utah, there are 1.5 million people within a couple hours' drive that have no access to hard-core pornography. It is not only illegal to buy it or sell it in the state, they can't even mail-order it. They cannot physically (legally) buy hard-core porn in Utah. They have to get in their cars and drive, or fly, or run, or ride their bike somewhere else.
         This man wanted to make some money -- very much a la Flynt. He also -- I've met the man and spoken to him -- happens to believe that human sexuality is a very healthy and normal thing. So, he decided to open up a "sexually oriented business", as they call it, an SOB.
         In the year that the store has been in operation, it has become the number one retailer of X-rated videos in the entire country. This situation is created, of course, by a massive government distortion of the marketplace across the border, in Utah. The people physically have to go somewhere and now they have somewhere very near to go. The store is located in Evanston, which is in the corner of Wyoming that projects deep into Utah, to within about 80 miles of Salt Lake City. 1.5 million people! Maybe only one in a hundred or one in a thousand would be interested, but that's a lot of people.
         And you know, it's very interesting. The man's store is clean, well lit, has all these chrome fixtures -- very modern. His vision for it is that it's meant to appeal to women and to couples. If anyone has read Wendy McElroy's wonderful book, XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, it's as though this man has taken Wendy's message and is actually doing part of it ... And saying that, no, pornography doesn't have to be sleazy, disgusting, or distasteful. It's a natural human action, and I'm going to make products available to normal every day people. The store advertises on the rock stations in Utah. There's a fetish section and a gay section, and the owner puts those against back walls, not in a dingy corner, but just so that people who are sensitive to such images don't have to walk by them on their way to what they want to see. And he has the lingerie and other things that appeal more to women right at the very front of the store, so that they don't have to walk by rows of videos that many of them might find offensive on their way to what they want.
         The townspeople, of course, were absolutely horrified by this.
         They pulled out the stops to try to put an end to it. They circulated a petition that one out of nine people in the entire town signed -- which is incredible. El Neil points out that, well, eight out of nine didn't sign it, but still, how many times do you get that ratio of people in a community to sign a petition? Hundreds of people showed up at a zoning meeting to try to close the store. The elected officials sat up on their dais and said nothing (they knew that the man wasn't breaking any laws but wouldn't dare take his side) while person after person came up to the microphone and testified, with tears in their eyes and stories of how they'd been raped when they were children, about all the terrible things that were going to happen if the store was allowed to open.
         None of those things have happened.
         There has been no increase in crime. There has been no sudden mass perversion of all the people's daughters. No one has been ruined by the presence of this store (except, perhaps, existing stores that rented pornographic videos). The only noticeable difference in the town is that tax revenues have shot up.
         Nevertheless, all the elected officials know which side of the bread is buttered, so they have tried to close the store with legal maneuverings. And he beats them. It's gotten to the point now where he's making so much money that he says, "Just let 'em. I've got more money than the town does!" And he'll outspend them. And his lawyers will out-lawyer their lawyers. And he'll win.
         And the reason why I'm telling this story is because this man has created freedom in my community. For nothing other than the profit motive -- which I don't need to explain or justify to this group -- he has not only created more freedom in the town for people to have choices they didn't have before, about a very personal and important part of their lives, but he has provided this for almost two million people who were being denied it by the state.
         He is not an activist. He is not an elected official. He is not a crusader, out there to save everyone. He is not a women's libber.
         He's just a guy trying to make money, and he has created increased freedom -- more choices that people should be able to make for themselves -- for two million people ... Just by his own personal action. It's really kind of interesting. He was only fighting to defend himself, but he has created this space around him.
         So, if we want to promote liberty, maybe one thing we can do is all become pornographers ... But, maybe that's not to everyone's taste.
         The point of the story is that it underscores the logo that's on my shirt, and on my sig-line, and is my favorite product of the Liberty Round Table's slogan generating machine: it's the idea of doing freedom!
         He said, "people should have this choice," and he did it. And they fought him, and they arrested him (they sentenced him to 45 days on trumped up charges that were thrown out immediately on appeal), and he did not wait for permission. He did not wait for Utah to change its laws to be the first person that could open this kind of store there. He just did it.
         This relates to the two halves of the Liberty Round Table's agenda. One of them is the political activism -- the "how can we get the message out" that we've talked about around the campfire. The other side is the "living freer now" half. I can't remember whose sig-file it's in, but somebody who posts on the LRT list has it in their signature that if you wait for permission to be free, you will never be free.
         That is so true!
         And we can see it in practical examples like the one I've just given. If you do it, you'll have it. If you wait for it, if you wait for 'our' party to win, or if you wait for the 'right' politician -- who happens to be honest -- to get in and save us all, you are never going to be free. Freedom is not something you ask for. If you do you'll never get it. Freedom is something that is yours by right, and that you assert.
         So, a very large part of what we're trying to do is encourage people to do that, to do freedom.
         We encourage people to homeschool -- we homeschool. We encourage people to use e-mail instead of the post office because when people do, they are unsubscribing from a coercive, aggressive monopoly system. Even simple things matter. For example, we encourage people to shop at garage sales. They are a black market. There are no taxes exchanged, there's no tracking of what you pay or what they sell -- it's great! When you do things like this, you are withdrawing the Randian "sanction of the victim", from this coercive system that attempts to rule over us.
         Another very important one -- and I know that everyone here likes to exercise this freedom -- is self-defense. How many times do people who believe in the freedom philosophy complain about the police? But how many of them rely on those same police officers they complain about to provide protection services? I'll admit that there are some things where the police have crowded other providers out of the market and I would probably use the police for, but I bought a gun. I am ready to defend myself and, and I think that is very, very important. That is doing freedom.
         One of the important reasons for doing freedom -- other than just for your own immediate benefit -- is that by doing it, you are it. And it gives you the platform from which to teach. It gives you the power of example. It gives you the credibility -- the 'ethos' -- for whatever you want to talk about as you educate other people.
         Now, that doesn't mean you preach!
         It just means that you get to have conversations like this:
         Statist Relative: "Oh, you homeschool?"
         You: "Yeah!"
         Statist Relative: "Why would you do that? Isn't that a lot of work? You have the kids at home all day, and when do you get a moment to yourself?"
         You: "Nah, it's great, I love having the kids at home all day! They're excited about what we're learning at home. Instead of coming home pissed off -- from being pissed on -- at the public school, they want to learn and are doing great."
         You get to talking about the benefits of what you're doing and all of the sudden, you get someone who's interested. Even if they're not a libertarian -- even if they would vote for Bill Clinton -- they might just unsubscribe from The System in this area, and subtract one more little piece of support out from under it.
         What we're doing with our essay contests -- I think everyone here pretty much understands that strategy -- that also helps spread the word about this other side. It helps move people closer to doing freedom and once they do it, they can teach it, explain it, and even become role models.
         The VirtualCon idea ... You know, if we really pull that off successfully -- and it doesn't take many people -- it will enable us to do so many more things! If just 100 people make a pledge and attend, that would cover all the prizes for the essay contest. That's not a lot of people. We've got 20 well-known authors -- well, some more well-known than others -- but even just on the science-fiction side, where you have a well-developed fan situation, we've got 10 very well-known authors who have a following. That's really exciting.
         Imagine if we had a thousand people log on for VC1. They don't have to go anywhere, don't have to pay for a hotel or meals, they don't really even have to do anything other than make a pledge -- which they don't even have to pay this year! And even if they don't have any money, they don't have to pay in cash; there's a way to pay without cash -- which is again another educational activity. So, if we had a thousand people sign up, that'd be $25,000! And a thousand attendees isn't unimaginable, for a conference that is cheaper, easier, and has a lot more speakers than other such event that people pay money to go to.
         This is an area we haven't pushed a lot on the internet, and I'd like to suggest that you think about it. The purpose for doing all of this, qua LRT, and not simply doing freedom yourself, is that to the extent that you interact as a Friend or Knight of the Liberty Round Table you engage in the public awareness campaign that all of us have talked about around the campfire. We've talked about how important this is. We've talked about how hard it is to educate, or to move, or to see something change in the way you want to see it change, when people don't even understand that there is a problem -- let alone agree about what needs to be done about it!
         So, the reason I've been asking you all for suggestions on ways to improve LRT is not a guilt trip on my part, nor that I'm unhappy with what we're doing. It's just that I'm so excited about being able to do more -- I want to do more! -- that I'm eager for help in doing so.
         I would like to see the group of friends we have now -- those present and those who can't be with us tonight -- help us reach a larger group. And it would probably take another iteration of that -- we'd have to reach yet another larger group -- in order to take on some really big projects. Such projects would not be onerous to the individuals involved. No one would need to put in any more effort than they did, say, in our "Reefers" to Reno project. However, with that many people participating, it would be very newsworthy. It would get public attention.
         Imagine if, oh, something on the order of 500,000 oregano joints had arrived at Janet Reno's office during the last round of the "Reefers" to Reno project ...
         I mean -- can you imagine wheelbarrows of these things ... Some poor schmoe opening up the envelopes -- and they have to open the envelopes; it's official correspondence! And because we supposedly have the right to petition the government for redress of our grievances, we are not doing anything illegal, or bad, wrong. We are communicating our discontent. This is a political protest action ... So here comes the schmoe with another wheelbarrow, wondering, "What are we going to do with all of these these things. Can you imagine all the guys down at the lab, using all kinds of cop equipment they have hanging around -- you know to test the leaves and the saliva used to seal the envelopes -- just think of all the resources they would waste on that instead of using them to persecute harmless people.
         It'd be great!
         And somebody might actually smoke the stuff and get sick because it isn't pot -- that'd be one less bureaucrat to worry about!
         Just think about what would happen if that got big enough that the media noticed ... Picture CNN carrying this image of a guy coming out of Reno's office with a wheelbarrow full of joints. It'd be hilarious! And some guy -- even "Joe Sixpack", who will never be a libertarian, who will never read Atlas Shrugged -- he's not gonna do it! But he sees the schmoe coming out of Jackboot Janet's office with a wheelbarrow full of cigarettes ... and maybe -- just maybe -- it clicks.
         It's a meme.
         And it spreads ...
         That's my vision for the Liberty Round Table: I'd like to see us remain enthused long enough to reach a larger group of people, so we can start doing some more visible things. If we become nothing more than a coffee club, I'll still be here, because I believe in LRT, but that would not fulfill my vision. That's not what I want to see happen.
         For people like you who would drive all the way to the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, I probably don't need to make a very hard sales pitch. But, there are people who didn't, so I want to suggest one last thought. It's not new, but it's important, and I hope you'll communicate it to other people, so that we can see this vision happen. Realizing this vision would be great: it would make a difference, it would be important, it would help us to live freer now, and it would sure as hell feel good!
         The idea is this:
         In my office, when I used to work at the Center for Market Processes, I had a poster on my wall of the picture that French reporter took of that one man ... with the white shirt ... and the black pants. He looked like a waiter just coming off work. He was standing in front of four tanks on their way to Tianenmen Square. And he's got his little satchel in one hand, and maybe a bundled up shirt or jacket in the other hand ... And no gun, no bazooka, no army behind him ... nothing behind him other than the sense that this is wrong, and I cannot step aside.
         I get goose-bumps -- I have shivers running up and down my spine right now just talking about this.
         Because this image is so powerful to me ... This one man, totally unarmed, standing in front of four huge tanks ...
         It so happens that the tankers didn't have orders to kill anyone yet, so they didn't run over him. But eventually they came and arrested him and hauled him off. And nobody knows who he was -- he's probably still in jail for all we know.*
         That picture, that image, of one man being so unreasonable, but so right ... I would hope that I would have that much courage!
         Here's the kicker -- here's how this ties into what we're talking about now.
         If we don't want to have to stand in front of tanks, if we don't want to get to the point where -- in the middle of the night, without knowing what anyone else is doing -- we decide to go stand in front of tanks surrounding the parliament building ...
         We need to do this now. We need to do freedom. We need to set the example. We need -- we deserve -- to enjoy more freedom in our lives.
         We need to do freedom.
         But we need to tell people that we're doing it!
         And we need to tell them how to do it.
         And we need to encourage them to tell other people.
         Because if we don't do it now, with words, we will be standing in front of those tanks ... Or we won't be, and we'll be crushed.
         I don't know if it's too late to stop that -- that was another discussion we've been having -- but if there's a chance, we need to do this, or we will end up standing in front of those tanks.
         So, I would like to ask all of you, to the extent that you can -- I make it my habit not to ask for onerous things, so I'm not going to ask you to take out your checkbooks and make the biggest contribution you can -- to do something that might be easier or harder. I want you to commit, in your own mind -- because it doesn't matter what you tell me; your own self-esteem and your own self-judgment is what matters. I want you to commit, in your own mind, to -- after leaving here and before the next conclave -- doing something specific that you know is doing freedom, that you know is new and above what you've already done. Do something new to expand the sphere of your own personal freedom ... And to tell people about it!
         There are some harder things, there are some easier things -- you don't need to go and open a porn shop! Maybe you could choose some of the activities we've lined up -- you could support a contest, or a conference, or just forward our e-mail announcements. I think that some of the more satisfying things to do, in addition to the ones we've made easy, are some of the harder ones, like making the choice to homeschool your kids. Or to take a greater role in your own self-defense.
         But do some freedom, and tell people about it!
         If you do that, it would be a wonderful thing. I am already honored and proud to be your friend, but it would just make me feel terrific to know that you have gone out and made a difference. Then I will have made a greater difference, and we'll all have more space in which to do freedom.
         Thank you very much!

* Someone at the dinner told me that it is known that the man in front of the tanks was executed for treason.

"Don L. Tiggre", founder of the Liberty Round Table (1101 Main Street, #104-254 Evanston, WY 82930) urges Libertarian Enterprise readers to "Do Freedom!!!" -- and check out Virtual-Con 1: Science-Fiction and Freedom-Lover's convention on-line, at http://home.lrt.org

Next to advance to the next article, or
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Table of Contents to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 41, July 14, 1998.